“MUSINGS WHILE IN THE HOLD”
MUSINGS CONCERNING THE SUFFERING AND THE MISERY
Surely Against Me Is He Turned
In the previous chapter mention was made that afflictions are of the Lord. We do ourselves a great disservice when we attribute fiery trials to anyone other than God our Father. If believers could but surrender themselves to the sovereignty of God in their afflictions, much error would be eliminated. Alas, man forever seeks to deny the ordering of Divine providence in his sufferings. How often do we blame, upbraid, and fretfully repine second causes. God is removed from the wise afflictions, and their authorship is given to temporal institutions, or persons, or policies of the world. This is very dishonoring to God when His people fail to see His eternal care in each hardship. If our benevolent Father is not the author of our afflictions, then there quite frankly could never be any comfort or redeeming qualities in them, much less a divine purpose.
There are many justifiable reasons for the indispensability of numerous fiery trials and painful dark days for the children of grace. Sin first comes to mind because we are all prolific sinners. We stink with pride and selfishness and for the most part, man is as stubborn as a mule. Our old sinful nature is ever active and more often than we care to admit, is quite productive. The flesh is filled full with vile imaginations and lewd thoughts, all the while there is a daring propensity to cast ourselves as faithful and clean before men.
Afflictions are needful to purge from worldly desires, and to perfect the virtues of the believers life. All tribulations are spiritual and purifying. They cause the child of God to have a great fear of sin and its ramifications. The redeemed are taught to disdain and hate that which severs communion with God. The saved child fast understands that the way of the transgressor is hard. (Prov. 13:15).
We need to remember, however, that not all trying times are the result of a sinful life. In all afflictions, the grand purpose is the glory of God and that He would be magnified as the very head above all.
In the Gospel of John, it is recorded that there was a man born blind. The disciples, caught up with inferior reasoning for such a dilemma (much like we do today), deduced that sin, someone’s sins, was the cause of the man’s blindness. They pressed Jesus to declare whose sins were responsible for the impairment. Jesus told them that sins were not the cause of this affliction, but rather this was ordered by God that his works should be manifest in the man. The glory of God in His mercy was the auspices for this miracle. Neither the man’s sins, nor the sins of his parents, nor the sight he received, were the primary aim, but rather the majestic glory of God. Such may very well be the case in the afflictions of many of the Lord’s children today. (Jn. 9:1-7).
Believers need to be reminded that man at his best state is altogether vanity. (Ps. 39:5). That all men have sinned and come short of the glory of God. (Rom. 3:23). That it is because of His mercies we are not everyone consumed. (Lam. 3:22). These convictions will lead to a casting off of vain and embellished fancies about our own worthiness. Believing these truths will cause the alert child to cling unto the faithful works and promises of the Lord.
Faith understands that all afflictions are the perfect will of God. He determines how long, how strong, and to whom they are administered. They are not dispensed by Him with hopeful designs, but are decreed by a wise and effectual purpose, which will not fail of His holy will.
Notice in Lamentations 3:1-18 the number of times Jeremiah says that God hath brought these afflictions and sufferings to pass. Jeremiah began by saying, “I am the man that hath seen affliction.” He then opens up the mighty counsels of God in them. “By the rod of his wrath. He hath led me, and brought me into darkness . . . SURELY AGAINST ME IS HE TURNED; he turneth his hand against me all the day . . . He hath made my flesh and skin old. He hath broken my bones. He hath builded against me. He hath set me in the dark places. He hath hedged me about. He hath made my chain heavy. He shutteth out my prayer. He hath enclosed my ways with hewn stone. He hath made my paths crooked. He hath turned aside my ways. He hath made me desolate. He hath bent his bow. He hath caused the arrows of his quiver to enter into my reins. He hath filled me with bitterness, he hath made me drunken with wormwood. He hath also broken my teeth with gravel stones, He hath covered me with ashes. And thou hast removed my soul far off from peace.”
That the person speaking was truly saved of God should never be the question. How pitiful are the arguments of those that depersonalize this lament and grief and give it only the national interpretation. That a nation, or the whole world, lieth in wickedness is a fact recorded in Scripture. (1 Jn. 5:19). Believers may greatly mourn because of the sins of their nation without feeling the full force of God’s displeasure. Such, however, was not the case of the Prophet in the Book of Lamentations. What he felt and underwent was personal torment to the fullest.
Jeremiah, like the other writers of Holy Writ was convinced that Jehovah was his only hope, strength, refuge, defense, glory, expectation, and salvation. Therefore, when he states in verse 18 that strength and hope had perished from the Lord, it was because the Lord was his strength and hope. When the Lord appeared to have turned against him, he had nothing left in which to place his hopes, because the Lord God was his all in all. “And I said, My strength and my hope is perished from the Lord:”
I AM the man that hath seen affliction by the rod of his wrath.” (1) The afflictions suffered by the redeemed may be the result of sin, or they may be for discipline, reproof, instruction, to wean the child of other confidences, to enhance prayer and supplication, but, all afflictions are for the glory of God. These troublesome times, to man’s limited comprehension do seem wrathful and unusually cruel. The believer is only able to assume harsh anger and burning fury. In truth, however, each stroke from God comes to His children with holy love and mercies. (Heb. 12:6).
Affliction as used in verse one, John Calvin said the original language has the force of, “assault, or passing over limits” in the affliction. Jarchi: declared that, “God’s chastisements of his own people are in love, even though they appear to be in wrath and hot displeasure.” The Psalmist viewed his afflictions as God’s indignation and wrath. He felt as though God would lift him up, just to cast him down. (Ps. 102:10).
“He hath led me, and brought me into darkness, but not into light.” (verse 2). The Prophet Jeremiah indicated that because men did not glorify God, He would bring darkness. “Give glory to the Lord your God, before he causes darkness, and before your feet stumble upon the dark mountains, and, while ye look for light, he turn it into the shadow of death, and make it gross darkness.” (Jer. 13:16). Again, we must needs question sin first as the cause of our separation from the Lord’s fellowship.
The most persuasive proof of true redemption is who is recognized as the giver of trials and afflictions in this life. If they are assigned to divine providence, and received as the perfect will of God, this is undeniable evidence that the person is truly a child of grace. They know “that the Lord giveth, and the Lord taketh away.” His power is an uppermost blessing to a child of faith. No power is able to turn God from His purpose. If He could be overruled in one event, He naturally would be suspect in all. “And all the inhabitants of the earth are reputed as nothing: and he doeth according to his will in the army of heaven, and among the inhabitants of the earth: and none can stay his hand, or say unto him, What doest thou?” (Dan. 4:35).
With these clear teachings on the heart, and in the thoughts we shall endeavor to describe the ripping afflictions, fierce tribulations, debilitating travail, thick darkness, and the relentless fiery trials. Knowing that all are poured forth from a merciful and affectionate God and Father, who for a time has His face turned away, and is seemingly silent to the cries of His children, the reasons for such displays of grief and bitterness must be received as holy, just, and good, even while confessing our infinite ignorance as to His ways.
“He hath led me, and brought me into darkness.” (verse 2). By His will and providence the Prophet is conducted, taken, and brought into thick darkness. The first perception of this trial is the absence of light. Great wonder takes hold of the soul as to why and how the Lord could do such a thing. The outlook is devastating, as events exhibit that Jehovah has turned His power and might in opposition to the fledgling that has sought His love and protection. Without constant upholding, the saint swiftly deteriorates in spiritual and physical stamina. One becomes strained and fearful that his lot will become gravely worse long before it improves, if it ever improves. (Job 16:8). In this suffering misery, the afflicted one is persuaded that God will break in upon him until “thou make an end of me.” (Is. 38:13). Floods of wild and extreme forebodings strip away what little stability may remain. The vexed one seeks to build, only to find God battering down his feeble structures of hope. The Lord builds against him a fortress so elevated that all efforts to escape produce only a sore chaffing and painful inner anguish. (verse 5).
When God seems to be turned against His people, they reckon themselves fit only for the pit, and freedom can only come with death. The spiritual darkness covers and blots out the last flickering light of hope. The paralyzing stroke was delivered by God who set His child in a dungeon of darkness. (verse 6). Like Job in his torment, this misery calls out, Oh! Father, either instruct and deliver me, or destroy me – it really matters not, for now I am only fit company for those that inhabit the grave. For thou hast loaded me with burdens and weighted me down with such painful sorrow that I cannot drag myself one inch forward, or back. Thou hast imprisoned me in an impregnable vault in which there is no escape. (verse 7). Also, Job 3:23, 12:14, 19:8; Hosea 2:6.
The raging thoughts of the Prophet were so scattered and detached that any order was an impossibility. His supplications were no more than scantly formalized cries and shouts which God turned away and convincingly shut them out. (verse 8). Also, verse 44.
It is in these darkest hours that we need to guard against our cries and shouts deteriorating into screams and roarings of disrespect and foul murmuring. Hard thoughts can with ease rule and methods of rank rebellion will suggest that in these troupes of hopeless despair, we forget God and speak no more of Him. “Then I said, I will not make mention of him, nor speak any more in his name . . .” (Jer. 20:9). The words of promise and deliverance which never seem to come in reality, are now no more than trouble to the heart and soul. “I remembered God, and was troubled: I complained, and my spirit was overwhelmed. Selah. Thou holdest mine eyes waking: I am so troubled that I cannot speak.” (Ps 77:3-4; note also, Job 30:20).
All my ways are enclosed by God in hewn stone. Harder than hard is this prison, and what path of escape there appears to be, thou, Oh God, has made it crooked. (verse 9). You! Lord, in secret wait to foil my design and hope. What I hoped for was God hearing me in this bitter anguish, but no, He seems to delight in ripping up my life and casting me off in anger. (verse 10). “That is, he hath taken all advantage against me to destroy me.” (Matthew Poole). “. .. as a lion, so will he break all my bones.” (Is. 38:13; note also, Hosea 13:7-8).
Believers could better stand the fury from men or devils, but when it comes from the hands of God this is more than they can withstand. It was God that turned His hand against the child of hope and pulled him in pieces. The Lord tore apart his hope, supplications, cries, shouts, and confidence. You! said the Prophet, have made me desolate. (verse 11).
The worn out supplicant now feels as if he is the target of God’s arrows. (verses12-13). The Lord is also the greatest of archers, and never has He missed in His aim. “Why hast thou set me as a mark against thee . . .?” This question drains all the remaining juice of hope from the broken vessel. Satan now has what must be the greatest advantage over the poor saint. “Where is your God?” What makes this stinging assault so heart-wrenching is the thought that both the great enemy of Jehovah, and Jehovah Himself are both shooting at the same target. “For the arrows of the Almighty are within me, the poison whereof drinketh up my spirit: the terrors of God do set themselves in array against me . . . I was at ease, but he hath broken me asunder: he hath also taken me by my neck, and shaken me to pieces, and set me up for his mark.” (Job 6:4, 16:12). See also, Job 7:20.
These arrows enter deep into the reins and lacerate the soul. When God is pleased to have one of His elect as His mark, who, or what, can hinder His counsel. (verse 37). “But he is of one mind, and who can turn him? and what his soul desireth, even that he doeth. For he performeth the thing that is appointed for me: and many such things are with him. Therefore am I troubled at his presence: when I consider, I am afraid of him. For God maketh my heart soft, and the Almighty troubleth me: Because I was not cut off before the darkness, neither hath he covered the darkness from my face.” (Job 23:13-17). The Great God can shatter the strength of vain hopes and stays, and powerfully stop all the designs and devices of mankind with one arrow from His quiver.
Often in the dark valleys God is pleased to cause everyone to withdraw from the afflicted one. “I looked on my right hand, and beheld, but there was no man that would know me: refuge failed me; no man cared for my soul.” (Ps. 142:4). See also, Jer. 20:7. “He hath put my brethren far from me, and mine acquaintance are verily estranged from me. My kinsfolk have failed, and my familiar friends have forgotten me. They that dwell in mine house, and my maids, count me for a stranger: I am an alien in their sight. I called my servant, and he gave me no answer; I entreated him with my mouth. My breath is strange to my wife, though I entreated for the children’s sake of mine own body. Yea, young children despised me; I arose, and they spake against me. All my inward friends abhorred me: and they whom I loved are turned against me.” (Job 19:13-19).
The speculations are advanced by the numbers, as all make their judgment concerning the sufferer’s seeming sad fall from favor. This oppression is an evil that ignites greater bitterness in the soul. “I have heard many such things: miserable comforters are ye all.” “Ye are all physicians of no value.” (Job 16:1, 13:4). The bereaved saint becomes the butt of ridicule and heartless conjecture. (Job 30:9; Ps. 69:12; Lam. 3:63).
“He will not suffer me to take my breath, but filleth me with bitterness.” (Job 9:18). Filled with this bitter portion, and sensing God is against every enterprise, the soul is fearful to place confidence even in the promises of God. Drunken with wormwood. Not only bitter, but staggering drunk with bitterness. The utterly crushed believer feels as if every time he asked of God, the Lord filled his mouth with gravel and broke his teeth with stones. Peace had long ago taken flight, and with it went all hopes of a prosperous delivery. (verses 15-17). “And I said, My strength and hope is perished form the Lord.” (verse 18).
Praise be to the all-wise and faithful God that all these fiery and hard afflictions are for His honor and glory. The redeemed benefit beyond calculation by them. While suffering them, however, we cannot believe that such is possible. “If I had called, and he had answered me; yet would I not believe that he had hearkened unto my voice.” (Job 9:16).